Newsom faced the first recall election in California in 18 years. At one point, weeks before the election, he appeared to be in serious enough jeopardy that Democrats decided to dispatch President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to campaign for him.
Republicans sought a replay of 2003, when actor Arnold Schwarzenegger attracted support across ideological lines and voters decided to boot then-Gov. Gray Davis. This time, though, the party’s leading candidate, talk radio host Larry Elder, stuck much closer to conservative orthodoxy — making it difficult to attract the sort of broad bipartisan support that it takes for a GOP candidate to win in deep-blue California.
And his long history of incendiary comments — combined with the odd recall system that virtually guaranteed Elder would become governor if Newsom was recalled — to energize those who had largely tuned the election out and might not have cast their ballots.
Strict pandemic policy gets a big win
Newsom’s aggressive actions to slow the spread of the coronavirus — the same restrictions that helped spur the recall election — got a significant boost on Tuesday night, proving to Democrats across the country that strict pandemic policy can be good politics.
Newsom nodded to this in his election night remarks to reporters, stating that while people voted “no,” that vote meant they said, “yes to science, yes to vaccines … yes to ending this pandemic.”
This, more than any lesson coming out of California, is the most likely to permeate other elections later this year and in 2022 — helping back up Democrats who have pushed strict coronavirus measures to curb the ongoing spread of the Delta variant in the face of a small but vocal opposition.
Newsom staked his campaign on his stringent Covid measures, using them to attack Elder as lax on the pandemic, contrasting himself with Republican governors in Texas and Florida and running fully alongside the new vaccine requirements that Biden announced just days before Election Day.
“We saw the Delta surge as a real inflection moment in this campaign,” said Sean Clegg, Newsom’s top strategist. “What Delta brought into clear, clear focus was what the stakes are in this election when one party has basically become an anti-science, anti-vaccine, anti-public health party.”
A 2022 Newsom vs. Elder race?
In the same breath that he acknowledged Newsom’s defeat of the recall on stage Tuesday night, Elder hinted at another run next year, in California’s normally scheduled governor’s race.
“We may have lost the battle, but we are going to win the war,” Elder said.
That might be a headache for California Republicans.
The party had other options — including former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer — who could have been less objectionable to moderate and Democratic voters. But conservatives in the state rallied around Elder, the talk radio host with a long record of incendiary comments that Newsom seized on. His campaign framed the race as a choice between two candidates, one of whom was far out of step with California’s overwhelming Democratic majority, rather than a simple up-or-down referendum on the governor.
Still, Elder, who if elected would be…